February 28 (Saturday) - On Saturday morning I headed over to the Mill in the am for a very easy run on the mill to loosen up. 5 miles. Then it was down to Bedford for some personal business. Early in the afternoon I shot up and over to Madbury, NH for the Kingman Farm Moonlight Snowshoe race (results). I got there super early so I had to wait around a bit more than I would have liked but by 4:30ish, people started to fill into the parking lot.
I was pleased to see a good field being assembled for this one including my CMS teammates Chris Mahoney (who used to blog, then he stopped, then he started again, but then he stopped) and Eric Narcisi, and also Bob Jackman and Andrew Drummond among others. It was shaping up to be a quick one as the majority of the course looked to be very solid and fast. Race Director Chris Dunn promised some 'interesting' spots of the race including the open fields (which were messy as usual) and a new section that certainly lived up to they hype.
I warmed up w/ Chris M. and Eric on the roads for 3 miles and then Chris and I did another 0.7 miles of a mile or so on snowshoes over the first and last parts of the course. Then we all lined up as darkness fell (start pushed back 15 minutes because this is a late date for this night race to take place), for the start of the 4.3 mile moonlight trek around the woods of Kingman Farm.
On the go command, I was off and running relatively quickly but still cognizant of the fact that there were some tough sections out there and the race was on the longer side of normal (4.3 miles this year). I clipped through the first mile of twisting and turning single track right around 5:50 pace on my watch. Seemed like a fast pace for the effort, which was a good sign for me for sure. After that, my watch seemed to be going in and out at times. I'm not sure if the battery was going or what. But I pushed along and by the mile I did have a pretty good lead. I could still see headlamps behind me (no doubt Chris and Eric) but it was a pretty substantial lead. There was one rather confusing section (confusing to me because I didn't pay too much attention to the pre-race instructions and also I didn't study the map at all so I didn't know that the race course had any 'two way traffic' sections. I came to a left-hand turn that looked like I could go both ways. I looked at the other side of the trail and the arrow was going right...but the direction of the flags and the arrow right in front of me was going left. I staggered for a quick moment and stopped for a second to try to figure out what to do. I quickly made the decision to go left. That was the right way....but on the way back, that intersection proved to be the killer for quite a bit of the top runners.
The field section seem to come pretty quick. The open fields you run across is basically a meandering single track of snowshoe rail that has been laid down in no real particular route. It's just kind of weaving around. It makes it very interesting each year. Another cool thing this year were the addition of periodic ice sculptures in the shape of cylinders with candle lights inside. Every once in a while throughout the whole course was one of these lighting the way. By the time I came off the fields, I had a pretty big lead on whoever was in second. I could see lights across the field but you obviously cannot tell who it is. I just went through the motions on the field, thinking that no way anyone was going to make up any time on me on that sloppy, unpredictable snow.
Once I got back in the woods, I started down this familiar wider path until there was a new very sharp turn off and up to the left (I almost blew straight past it). This was the new section that Chris mentioned and it definitely was a ball buster. The snow was deep, complete sugar, and postholed to death. Every step was a foot's worth of sinking and tripping all over the place. It didn't stop at the top either. It climbed a decent amount and then cut across an open area and back down to the normal trail. The entire thing was a nightmare and made me realize why I started to kind of fall out of love with snowshoe running this year. I never saw anyone the rest of the time. The last time I had seen lights behind me was on the field. So after finally getting off that section of basically breaking trail (or even worse considering the whole thing was post-holed), I opened it back up again down to another section that confused the crap out of me. I ended up coming to a two-way-traffic section of the course I just never remembered or expected. I got really nervous and thought I was going the wrong way. I would see an arrow going in the opposite direction but then would see another going in the right direction. I just kept thinking I did something wrong or missed a turn because at night, even with the headlamp, it gets very disorienting and it's a lot tougher to try to envision where you are.
Then I hit the intersection of death. It was the first confusing (to me) intersection that I noticed on the way out. Just the way it was laid out (maybe in the daytime it was obvious but at night it was very tough to determine) was a bit confusing when you are running at top speed and trying to make a split section decision. I started to slow down thinking I was going in the wrong direction and didn't want to go too far in the wrong direction before having to turn around. I actually stopped for a moment again and tried to figure it out. I took a couple steps forward and noticed an arrow and additional flagging going straight. I also remembered that if I took a right there, it would go back to the start, which would have been wrong. It definitely helped having run this race before, even if some of the course changes. I headed up straight until I came to the far end of the field that in previous years, we came off of in the opposite direction. I saw the familiar right-hand turn onto the start of the climb. I knew I was good there and started to climb. I had no visibility on my time as my watch looked like it had shut off...but there was absolutely no one behind me. Little did I know that at that time, 2nd place through maybe 5th or 6th all went the wrong way. So there was no one behind me for many minutes at that point. I hit the climb and really just took it easy over the last mile. I knew I would make it back in 1st and didn't really kill myself on the climb which seemed to go by very quickly. I got to the top in no time and then dropped down a bit, then back up, over, and back down. My watch looked to be working by the time I got near some spectators on the way to the finish area. I saw close to 4.3 on the watch right when I finished, which was right on what Chris said the race was. Then my watch shut off again so I wasn't sure this would even upload until I got home. I started asking around and the range of distances people had were pretty interesting.
The most shocking thing at the time though was when I came across the line to finish and saw Chris and Eric already standing there. I think one of them may have said something like 'congrats on third'... I immediately thought 'oh my God I went the wrong way'... but then they explained that they had taken a wrong turn at that last junction on the two-way section and had come back to the start/finish area from the wrong direction. Chris Dunn had immediately told them they had gone the wrong way. Chris Mahoney had about 3.8 or so on his watch. They had completely missed the last climb and switchback section. I then saw Bob Jackman come walking in carrying his snowshoes. This is the second time in a snowshoe race I've seen Bob with his snowshoes in his hand at the end, where he'd miss a turn. He's got some bad luck for sure in some of these races. He had also gone the wrong way at that same intersection and so did Andrew Drummond who was in the top 5 or so when he also went the wrong way. He and Bob went back and did the last bit (more or less) and Andrew got into the results having run 5.3 miles or so. I think there were a couple others who unfortunately got lost on the way back too and ended up either running long or dropping out. Before things got too out of hand, Chris Dunn ran down to that junction and made sure people went the right way. So the damage was minimized after the first couple groups of people.
The results I believe have the per mile pace set for a 5k distance. This was 4.3 miles so I was able to clip off about 7:09 pace overall, which is actually pretty incredible considering that in the new section where (according to Strava) I dropped down to 15:07 pace for a bit... and then the field, where I never could really get going all that quick. The climb at the end (switchbacks) isn't bad at all, but that still cuts the pace way down... Overall, I was happy with the effort and of course the good fortune of staying on course for the win.
I cooled down with Jackman, Mahoney, and Narcisi for another 3 miles around the roads of Madbury before promptly bonking just in time to go inside to grab something to eat. 16 miles on the day.
Aside from the mishap at the end for a few of the top dogs, it was yet another fine event put on by acidoticRacing (as if we ever expected anything else). There were some great raffle prizes to be had afterwards and there was a chili cook-off competition on the side with many great chili recipes to try. I few of the ones I wanted to try had unfortunately run dry before I had a chance to taste test because Andrew Drummond got to all of them first.